I love toys. The bigger, flashier, and more accessorized with knobs, dials, cables and batteries, the better. For the past year and a half, I’ve been a huge fan of BorrowLenses, a web site that stocks an inordinate variety of lens formats, focal lengths and camera mounts. I “borrowed” (rented) four different Canon telephoto lenses ranging from the fixed 200mm to the “Bigma” Sigma 50-500mm super telephoto before picking one to own; renting for the weekend gave me a chance to try the lenses out under a variety of conditions, and get used to lugging the equipment around the field or performance space. I made a much more informed decision, and got to use some seriously expensive equipment.
Photographers have something of an advantage in gear selection, though, since there are the primary brands (Nikon, Canon) and then the “discount” brands (Tamron, Sigma) and a few very high-end brands (Zeiss) that reach the consumer. I’m sure there are some ultra-high end boutique brands that I’ve never heard of, but if I have to ask I couldn’t afford them nor would I benefit from their quality or features.
Life is different in the world of guitar pedals. The mainstream brands (DOD, Boss, Ibanez) are almost hackneyed, and everyone is looking for that slight variation in tone, in expressive control, and in constructing the right combination of effects that work best with a selection of guitars and amplifiers. Boutique pedals are the norm, but suffer from a lack of visibility and a distinct lack of access. While specialty pedal stores exist, you’re still looking at close to $200 for something that may or may not sound ideal with your particular rig’s pre-amplifier section. Yes, this stuff matters, because the jagged, rough tone edges that you immediately associate with a song or guitarist are a function of matching where pedals, pre-amplifiers, and amplifiers introduce distortion or damp out ringing. It’s analog electronics at its best, and it’s a somewhat expensive proposition if you want to dabble.
Enter TryAPedal, an online store modeled after BorrowLenses. You can borrow (rent) or rent-to-own pedals, and their selection is a cross-section of some of the higher end boutique guitar pedals around. Why not spend $25 renting a pedal for a weekend, put it thorugh its paces, even try it out on a gig, before spending eight times that much buying it without a proper audition? Even if you could find these pedals in a local retail store, playing them without your guitar and amplifier is equivalent to test driving a new car with someone else’s feet and hands. You just don’t get the entire dynamic range of feel.
I like the idea because it also exposes a wider range of small, hand-crafted pedal makers to the broad market. There is a long tail market effect in guitar electronics, and the social force that drives demand from the primary brands down the long tail is discovery: you have to be found to be heard. TryAPedal solves some of that equation; musicians sharing their success stories solves a few other variables — and the TryAPedal guys get it in one here as well. If you make a video showcasing a pedal you’ve rented, and let TAP publish it, you get rental credit. Kudos for working both the demand and supply sides (oh if only Washington would pay attention to some real-world economics), giving gear-heads more time (and money) to experiment with knobs, dials and cables in the real world.